The Devils played their 41st game of the season Saturday evening. If my math is correct (you can correct me if you want), that makes it the official halfway point of the season. So I thought I’d look back at the first half of the year and offer some opinions.
MVP of the Half-Year:
Zach Parise – You may think this is an easy pick but it really wasn’t. Patrik Elias has been steady and is having one of his better years and Ilya Kovalchuk has been, especially lately, provided the game-breaking scoring punch he needs to be. But MVP is who is most valuable to his team and that man is Mr. Parise. Zach has been the Devils heart and soul and hardest worker out there. He’s not a point machine like the Flyers’ Claude Giroux is, but watching him every night is an absolute treasure. power play, penalty killing, the man does it all. If you want a microcosm of how Parise has been playing this year, watch this goal from December 16th. Oh and by the way, THIS IS SHORT-HANDED! Parise doesn’t get the goal but the work he does before that tells you the kind of player he is and how is one of the top 3 best all-around players in the NHL this year. (Honorable Mention: Patrik Elias)
Rookie of the Half-Year:
Adam Henrique – Going into this season all Devils could talk about was 4th overall pick Adam Larsson and the impact he would make to a relatively weak blue line for the Devils. And he has played well and has showed moments where he’s going to be crazy good in a few years. But what the fans didn’t expect was the impact of another rookie, Adam Henrique. The former 3rd round pick made the team out of camp and then got sent down for lack of production. Then a broken clavicle by Jacob Josefson gave Henrique his 2nd chance and he has taken the ball and ran with it (or puck… whatever). With the injuries of both Josefson and Travis Zajac, the center position at the top was looking very thin. Henrique saw the opportunity to make an impact and is now cemented (so far) as the Devils’ 1st line center. He has 32 points in 36 games. That’s an outstanding points-per-game ratio for a first line rookie center. And now with Oilers centerman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins our for the next 4 weeks with an injury, Henrique could take a stranglehold on the race for the Calder Trophy as top rookie. (Honorable Mention: Adam Larsson)
Pleasant Surprise of the Half-Year:
David Clarkson – The man has 15 goals so far. FIFTEEN! He leads the team! If you thought that was going to happen in the beginning of the year, and that his goals were going to be very important ones (first goals, game tying goals, game winning goals), you’d be lying. And I don’t like liars. They’re mean. (Honorable Mention: The second coming of Petr Sykora)
Disappointment of the Half-Year:
Steady 4th Line production – Now I’m not saying that production = points. There’s a lot of times that the 4th line could give a team energy and also play well enough defensively and offensively that it gives the top 3 lines needed rest during a game. That hasn’t been the case with the 4th line this year so far. While the Cam Janssen fights have been there (and LONG), there really hasn’t been that balance where they can go out there 5-7 minutes a game and give top guys like Ilya Kovalchuk some rest. Because of their liabilities, they’ve even double-shifted Kovy some times. (Honorable Mention: Mattias Tedenby)
Low Point of the Half-Year:
6-1 loss to Colorado – This was a game after which the Devils lost a heartbreaker to the Islanders. You would think the team would be able to build on that loss knowing they got hosed (in my humble opinion), and take out their frustrations on a very mediocre Colorado Avalanche team. Well the Devils got trounced 6-1 and never even looked like they wanted to be there. Thankfully there haven’t been any games like this one since. And no, that 6-1 Boston loss was just a good ol’ fashioned butt-whoopin’ by the best team in the league. It’s much easier to come back from a loss like that than the one suffered in Colorado. (Honorable Mention: Zajac tears achilles)
High Point of the Half-Year:
Not Being Dead Last in the NHL – At the halfway point of last season, the Devils were 10-29-2 and losers of 15 of their last 17. We also didn’t win at home until mid-November. This year? 23-16-2 and sitting in the 6th spot in the conference, 4 points from the #4 slot. I wouldn’t care if Kovy got an Ovechtrick for 3 straight games. This is the high point of the season. HANDS. DOWN. (Honorable Mention: December 8th win over Ottawa after being down 3-0)
Biggest Key to the 2nd Half:
Stay Healthy – The Devils have been fortunate enough that they have played well despite injuries from key players such as Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson, and Andy Greene. They’re also fortunate that it was in the first half of the season. The later the season goes on, the more damaging these injuries can be. The point differential between the Devils and 10th place is only 4 points. They’re going to need all their guns to keep the fight going. Travis Zajac has returned despite missing the past couple of games with soreness, which was expected. Josefson and Greene will be back in the next couple of weeks as well, although Josefson may play in Albany for a while with the emergence of Adam Henrique (my feeling is make him the 4th line center and make that line an actual scoring threat, but I don’t have time to write why). The biggest key is get healthy, stay healthy, and get into the playoffs. The way the NHL Playoffs have been you never know what can happen. Unless we have to play Boston. I don’t want to have to play Boston. Not in the first round at least.